their hearts, a group of local residents recently
traveled to Central America to pay a visit to Bible
Leaving Oct. 1 and returning Oct. 9, the Rev. Bill
Koch, Susan Culver, Joe Munger, Marilyn Lambert and
Harry and Anita Sharp comprised a group representing
the First United Methodist Church in Sikeston.
"This was a construction project in a small seminary,
the Latin America Bible University, in San Jose," said
Koch. "We were there to do remodeling of married
The trip was part of Volunteers In Mission, a ministry
of the Missouri Area United Methodist Church
coordinated by the Office of Creative Ministries in
According to VIM, "it seeks to make a Christian
difference by sharing the love of Christ through our
participation in short-term mission activities." Those
activities could be local in Missouri, or some place
like Costa Rica, nestled between Nicaragua and Panama
in Central America.
It was a return trip for Koch, who had previously
headed up a group from his former pastorate, the
Cameron (Mo.) United Methodist Church. In fact, a
group from that church was also present for this VIM
"This was the first trip sponsored by the (Sikeston)
church," Koch said, hoping to continue the Volunteers
In Mission effort.
"It's a very rewarding experience and for some a very
life-changing experience," he said.
"You learn about a different culture. People may look
different and speak a different language but they are
the same like us. They have the same desires, worship
the same God and have similarities of faith."
The seminary trains pastors to serve churches in
Central and South America and actually maintains 18
campuses. During three years of study, students are
required to spend 2-4 months on the campus at San
Jose. In addition, the seminary provides Bible studies
for any lay person.
"It provides pastors for many different
denominations," Koch said, noting students from Church
of God, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Nazarene and
Baptist churches were in attendance in addition to
United Methodist students.
The VIM team began the day with breakfast before
proceeding to devotions and then getting to work. The
remodeling work consisted of tearing out ceilings of
two two-bedroom apartments, measuring some 800 square
feet. The ceilings were replaced with new tile, walls
were painted, and the kitchens and bathrooms rewired.
The apartments were also prepared for new cabinets and
"We had a language barrier but through smiles, hand
signals, the little Spanish we knew and the little
English they knew, we could communicate and learn to
work together," Koch said.
The trips are arranged to perform some work functions,
but they don't require construction experience to take
Culver added: "I consider myself an unskilled laborer
and I worried that there would not be enough for me to
do but I was able to pitch in."
But she learned apartments were not the only things
"It is neat to get together with people from your
congregation and do things with them. You develop
relationships that can sustain your local church," she
"There is also an emphasis in building relationships
with people and the chance to display our love for
Christ," Koch stated.
After work was completed for the day, the team would
eat supper and spend their evenings reading, doing
devotions, visiting with missionaries, students and
each other. There was no TV, no radio and limited
Internet (e-mail) access. The group also attended a
student graduation ceremony.
Temperatures ranged from 86 in the daytime to 65 at
night. With no flying insects, residents have no
screens on their windows which are usually left open.
"Though it was the rainy season, we didn't have that
much rain until the very end of the trip," Koch said.
The scenic locale in the northern highlands also
provided an opportunity to view some of the most
exotic landscape in the world. A trip to a national
park offered an up-close look at an active volcano;
other sights included wild poinsettias and colorful
Like the others, Culver was captivated by the
country's beautiful scenery.
"It's just a wonderful place to be," she said. "They
countryside was so beautiful. Everything was so lush
"I'd move there," she joked.
The trips away from the seminary also allowed for
interaction with local residents.
"It was remarkable the number of people who were not
cocooned inside their homes but were outside on the
porch talking. We saw firsthand just how friendly they
"We felt very safe and secure the whole time we were
there," he said.
Culver agreed, saying that although some portions of
the city were crowded and traffic was bad they never
felt in danger.
"The people were warm and friendly. When we left it
was a very trying time for our country and the people
there were supportive of us," she said.